This month we feature a cookbook that emphasizes the role of fresh organic fruits and vegetables in preparing everyday seasonal dishes with innovative touches.
A Year in a Vegetarian Kitchen:
Easy Seasonal Suppers for Family and Friends
By Jack Bishop
Houghton Mifflin Company, 2004
How does the busy editor of Cook's Illustrated magazine and the principal cast member of the PBS television show America's Test Kitchen find the time to cook everyday vegetarian meals for his wife and two daughters, and still set aside hours to write a landmark cookbook? Since A Year in a Vegetarian Kitchen is Jack Bishop's third cookbook, we must assume he has secretly garnered extra hours many of us wish we had.
Shortly after 5 in the evening, Jack steps out of his home office and spends a relaxing, creative hour or less in the kitchen to prepare the family's dinner. He's focused on inventive family-style meals that incorporate the plethora of fresh vegetables he and his family harvest from their membership organic community farm from June to November.
In recent years, many people have abandoned the kitchen because they believe cooking is too difficult. Jack's philosophy "Buy local, cook global, and keep it real," brings realistic recipes to everyday meals that are entirely workable. His innovative style of featuring fresh fruits and vegetables in keeping with today's food trends makes this book so enticing for the discriminating palate and may even encourage reluctant novices to embark on a new kitchen adventure.
Variety being key to Jack's culinary creations, he draws inspiration from the international cuisines of Mexico, the Caribbean, India, Thailand, Italy, Spain, France, China, and Japan. Dishes like Spinach-Onion Quesadillas with Avocado-Chipotle Salsa and Mexican Wraps with Golden Tofu, Roasted Poblanos, and Avocado have their origins South of the Border, while the Pizza with Carmelized Onions and Thyme or Pasta with Squash Sauce and Parmesan draw ideas from Italian traditions.
The book is divided into the four seasons of the year and features recipes that incorporate fresh fruits and vegetables that come to market during that season. Because Jack acknowledges that a hectic schedule allows only limited time in the kitchen, he offers a brief chapter of seasonal menus that feature only a few appealing dishes that are easy to prepare. An index of recipes that appears at the beginning of each segment lends an appealing introduction to anyone searching for a quick meal idea.
The first recipe in the Spring segment is Curried Carrot-Apple Soup with Golden Tofu Cubes, a tantalizing soup that incorporates McIntosh apples so abundant during that season. Other creative spring dishes to whet the appetite include Wilted Spinach Salad with Japanese Flavors, Turkish or White Bean Wrap Sandwiches, or the Red Curry-Braised Tofu with Snow Peas, Red Pepper, and Scallions.
Exciting flavors for Summer are offered in creations like Cold Emerald Peanut-Sesame Noodles or Chard Bundles Stuffed with Bulgur and Sautéed Red Peppers. Fall recipes introduce hearty corn dishes like Millet, Corn, and Red Pepper Pilaf or Corn, Tomato, and Lima Bean Stew. Winter is when Jack prepares more warming foods like Black Sesame Noodles or Fusilli with Green Lentils, Root Vegetables, and Parsley-Caper Puree.
Graphically attractive, the book features eight full-color pages of beautifully styled, irresistible dishes that could easily entice one to the kitchen. Yellow ochre-shaded side-bars set in yellow ochre type offer relevant information about special ingredients and are paired with the recipes that incorporate that ingredient. Also appealing are the recipe annotations that match the color of the sidebars.
While the book does include recipes that employ dairy products and eggs, many of Jack's dishes are totally vegan or can easily be converted to vegan. The Everyday Basics section covers frequently used recipes such as Mashed Potatoes, Vegetable Stock, and Lighter Refried Beans. He even reveals his secret for keeping pesto green. Most cookbooks have one index, but this one actually includes three: one has an excellent general index, another contains recipes by category, and the third is a section index for each season.
Surprisingly omitted is dessert, a standard inclusion in nearly every cookbook. Believing we had somehow overlooked the dessert section, we searched through each chapter and, finally, the Recipe Index but couldn't find a single dessert recipe in the entire book. Since we usually favor fresh fruits for dessert, we were not disappointed by the omission. To the contrary, we applaud Jack for leaving out the fatty ingredients and empty calories.
A Year in a Vegetarian Kitchen is a well-crafted gem with recipes that are innovative, beautifully presented, and packed with healthful, truly delicious dishes with a flair for flavor fusion. Anyone who loves to cook will find A Year in a Vegetarian Kitchen the perfect addition to the home kitchen because of its multitude of family recipes designed for everyday meals with a fresh style. It seems Mother Nature herself has given author Jack Bishop a thumbs up.